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FringeReview UK 2022

The Crucible

National Theatre, London

Genre: American Theater, Drama, Historical, Mainstream Theatre, Theatre, Tragedy

Venue: National Theatre, Olivier


Low Down

Director Lyndsey Turner, Set Designer Es Devlin, Costume Designer, Catherine Fay, Lighting Designer Tim Lutkin, Sound Designer (Content Design) Tingying Dong, Sound Designer (System Design)Paul Arditti, Composer and Arranger Caroline Shaw, Music Director and Arranger Osnat Schmool

Fight Director Bret Yount, Lead Intimacy Director Ita O’Brien for Intimacy On Set, Intimacy Director Louise Kempton for Intimacy On Set, Dialect Coach Daniele Lydon, Dialect Coach Hazel Holder, Lead Set Design Associate Ellie Wintour, Assistant Music Director Alice Grant, Company Voice Work Jeanette Nelson, Company Voice Work Shereen Ibrahim, Staff Director Blythe Stewart

Till November 5th 


For anyone who saw Lyndsey Turner’s overwhelming version of Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire at the Lyttelton in 2015, it must seem like the Lyttelton’s time-travelled into the Olivier in Turner’s revival of Miller’s The Crucible there. No bad thing either.

Es Devlin’s wrought the same deep rectangular space with matching canopy, another choral opening after a  rain-curtain chills the start of each scene – Caroline Shaw’s work underscored by a single drone from Paul Arditti’s sound-design, and lit to a sense of raw weather by Tim Lutkin. And it’s the seventeenth century again, roughly in-period in Catherine Fay’s costumes, with a chorus of girls in varying pink dresses, the men in more period-anonymised dress. Grounding it in 1692’s what Miller aimed for: explicit theocracy, the spartan Puritan set, gunmetal grey with gleaming floor and chairs erect or flung down, sometimes a kitchen table.

Turner though is massing a political and social statement, marshalling a heft of collective frenzy, where ancient grudges explode with new excuse. Both plays can be more intimate affairs, the Churchill’s original six expanded to 62, though The Crucible’s a more modest expansion from 20 to 28 including a revolving child actor. With mass-media wildfiring into lynch-mobs, modern Salems nudge beyond the McCarthy witch-hunts that inspired Miller. We don’t need to cite modern examples: the force of theocracy is alas with us; the mass energies displayed here need no transposition.

What this Crucible manages is a miraculously patient picking-through different grudges: over land, repeated child death, resentment over the new minister where the action starts, shifting allegiances, above all the repression prompting forward teenagers to lie their way out of trouble and spring the noose’s trapdoor.

Turner’s inspired use of part of Miller’s Prologue, and again at the end combining it with some of his epilogue, means we get explicit commentary where the ensemble’s given generous voice and allowed two moments. For all the care and detail, there is admittedly a less intimate shudder of catastrophe, less identification with key figures.

As Abigail Williams Erin Doherty has vehemence and a glinting feral savagery, less of persuasion – it’s a sliver, Miller doesn’t give Abigail much  – less chance to show why John Proctor thinks ‘softly’ of her. Anushka Chakravati telegraphs a Mercy Lewis thrilled to be under her influence. As to a lesser extent, does Susannah Walcott’s Gracie McGonigal.By contrast Rebecca Diedricks’ Mary Warren is a study in naive self-importance as ‘appointed’ to the court, in a defiance that twists reluctantly under each influence: Abigail, Proctor, Abigail. In each turn Diedricks is moved by the twin poles of fear and a desire to please: she shows less spectacle than some, more truth.

Brendan Cowell’s John Proctor starts gruff and doesn’t surreptitiously season the stew before his wife enters, provoking the dramatic irony (and sexual metaphor) when he praises her for it being ‘well-seasoned’. It’s such details that allow Proctor’s distance from his wife to edge in. His confrontation with Reverend Parris – initially rational-seeming Nick Fletcher doppler-shifts to persecutor-in-chief from palpable funk, blinkered insecurity – shifts from upright disdain to isolation. Cowell’s stature grows more inwardly with Eileen Walsh’s fine Elizabeth Proctor. Hers is a study in both anxiety and low self-esteem compensated with a flawed (and fatally vaunted) truthfulness that here isn’t simple goodness, but a measure of self-loathing.

Cowell’s greatest moment is that great line I’ve never heard spoken out of such brokenness before: Proctor’s been tortured, and tortured his ‘Because. It is. My name’ comes out with devastating authority. Just a few more moments like that would convince me this is the finest Crucible of modern times. It’s still not far off.

Tilly Tremayne’s Rebecca Nurse is another outstanding performance: adamantine, both soft in reproof at Proctor’s recanting, she’s the beacon that firms him up. Her reasonableness is absolute, but not, despite her piety, a theocratic one. There’s affecting work too from her husband in Colin Haigh’s Francis Nurse.

Despite 2 hours-50, it’s certainly not a slow production. Matthew Marsh’s Danforth is if anything too rapid, decisive yes, lending credence to an unreflective, inflexible mind. Not though being given time to stamp his authority with weight or menace. Karl Johnson’s excellent Giles Corey though does flex litigiousness in Danforth’s face, and Marsh’s ire is wholly convincing. Stephanie Beattie’s Martha Corey has just moments to show why she’s of a tough rational mind with her husband. Henry Everett conveys in a few lines a vicious Judge Hathorne.

Fisayo Akinade’s Reverend Hale starts off a pedant, ordering Parris to take his vast tomes off him. Hale navigates through his initial diabolic findings through encountering the Proctors to very different conclusions, but can’t reverse now his call for a court. Akinade’s performance strips prejudice back  to a genuinely redemptive figure who becomes the other conscience to Proctor and Rebecca Nurse. His traversal from condemning proceedings to return to elicit explicitly false confessions –  knowing he’s trashing everything he ever believed – is almost radiant with self-damnation. Turner remains faithful to every direction too, including Hale’s kneeling before Elizabeth Proctor.

There’s strong work from Raphael Bushay as a enforcer-style Marshal Herrick, not without feeling; supported in the fourth act by Hopkins’ David Ahmad where the prison’s a jumble of upturned chairs, losing perhaps the force of the stark finale because the set’s already of a piece.

Nathan Amzi drips time-serving revenge as a really creepy Ezekiel Cheever. Alastair Parker’s querulous Thomas Putnam expresses no love for Parris but ultimately sides with him. Zoe Alrich doubles as both agonised, accusing Ann Putnam (of Rebecca Nurse), and  homeless Sarah Good, making her escape with Sophia Brown’s Tituba – itself a lightning-study in fear and devotion (to apparently bedrid but a wildly responsive actor playing Betty Parris, here younger than in some productions), undermined by colonial oppression and displacement.

The hard-working ensemble’s worth naming: Grace Cooper Milton, Halle Brown, Hero Douglas, Aoife Haakenson, Martin Johnston, Joy Tan, Ami Tredrea, and the young girl (four alternating as Betty) exposed to such theatre.

There’s magnificence and scale here, and though some occasional loss of intimacy’s regrettable, this is still a Crucible of searing relevance;  proof that by grounding it in its time, it scorches us.